Wot I read in August and September

Partly because of the accident of my birth, partly because of the school year, I’ve always taken my New Year’s Day as being the first of August.

I hope to do more detailed writing based reviews of pieces as I go along, in the vein of the I Learnt About Writing From That article I did last month. But I think throwing a few notes down each month should help remind me of what I read and whether it was worth it.

Here’s the rundown for August and September:

August 2015

Troilus and Cressida – William Shakespeare

Set during the siege of Troy, the play has somewhat opened ended and therefore not massively satisfying ending. But on the other hand plays brilliantly with the audience’s expectations of the various characters. Would recommend.

So I Am Glad – A L Kennedy

Lovely bit of strangeness. A woman finds her new housemate is … No, I can’t even give you that much without spoiling it a bit. Sufficed to say its a sweet sort of magical, mixed with sordid and gritty sort of realism. Is in large part about writing and writers without being too navel gazing.

Also sad stuff and sex which is how you know its Alison’s work. Would deffo recommend.

Umbrella – Will Self

Clearly balls-deep in the whole modernist thing. Funny, sweet, but also deliberately difficult.

The lack of paragraphs and scene breaks in the text, actually manage to feel very close to the way cinema works. Just a thought.

Would recommend.

The Possessed – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Feels like three good novels woven somewhat incongruously together. Lots of good ideas. Characters are very strongly drawn. Would recommend, but not before Crime and Punishment.

Octopussy and the Living Daylights – Ian Fleming

Short stories. More literary than most of the books and therefore less fun than the novels. Wouldn’t not-recommend.

Measure for Measure – William Shakespeare

Alright, but a bit shallow. The female characters are insipid, the rest are paper thin and ironed flat. The moralizing about virginity is tiresome. Wouldn’t recommend.

Logicomix – Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos H Papadimitriou

Graphic novel / biography of Bertrand Russell.

Interestingly written. Framed by a meta-fictional discussion between the creators and a logician as to how to tell the story. Then framed again by a biographical lecture by Bertie.

The art isn’t much to look at, write home about, etc… but the story and characters are fascinating if you are remotely interested by clever people being clever, and occasionally mad. Would recommend.

Dhammapada – Anon trans. Juan Mascaro

A not terribly insightful or interestingly written supposed collection of the Buddha’s sayings. Would not recommend.

The Bhagavad Gita – Anon trans. Juan Mascaro

The Gita espouses roughly the same sort of lifestyle as the Dhammapada just within the massive metaphysical context of Hinduism. It concerns a conversation between a massive wuss who wants to stop killing people he knows in the fictional civil war he finds himself in, and his bloodthirsty charioteer who turns out to be a god in disguise.

Some nice poetical images, but not sure I would recommend.

September 2015

Tinderbox – Edited by Jon Mycroft

The Warwick Writing Program’s anthology from a year or two ago. Like all these things massively hit and miss. But worth it for J S Loveard and the editor’s contributions (#nepotism). Also because someone says ‘Hello’ to Jason Isaacs in the acknowledgements = instant endearment to the project.

The Oresteia – Aeschylus trans. Ted Hughes

See elsewhere for fuller review. Would recommend.

From the Ruins of Empire – Pankaj Mishra

Fascinating look at the political ideas of colonized Asian nations in the late 19th – 20th Centuries. Full of: oh-that’s-why-that’s-how-that-is sort of moments regarding the tensions between East and West nowadays. Would highly recommend.

The Symposium – Plato

Like most of Plato: terrible, terrible, terrible philosophy bordering on theology; but lots of interesting anecdotes and imagery and interesting formal set-up. Might recommend.

Antigone – Sophocles trans. Robert Fagles

Good story, dull translation. At 80p I can hardly not recommend.

The Fortunate Traveller – Derek Walcott

Poetry collection from a nobel prize winner. A lot of it reads more as poetic prose. But all of it is good stuff. Would recommend.

Electra – Euripides trans. M J Cropp

Very literal translation. Not as good as the section of the Oresteia which goes with it. Would recommend as a contrast though. Also note Sophocles wrote an Electra too.

Black Holes and Baby Universes – Stephen Hawking

Not a great collection of essays from a not a great essayist. Most amusing for how condescending he is about the idea of letting a film be made about his life.

Would recommend picking up his A Brief History of Time instead.

Lysistrata – Aristophanes trans. Dudley Fitts

Great comic play in which the women of Athens and Sparta bring an end to the Peloponnesian war by going on marital strike. The absolute worst translation. All the Spartans are given hillbilly accents for no real reason. Wouldn’t recommend this version.

Everyday Drinking – Kingsley Amis

Good bathroom reading for the occasional to regular drunk. Wouldn’t recommend to everyone.

What it is Like to Go to War – Karl Marlantes

Part memoir of the Vietnam War, part spiritual guide for soldiers. A really thoughtful and psychologically complex story. My ethical brain is still digesting some of it. I would very highly recommend.


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